Sunday, February 20, 2005

Ethics and the experience of encountering the other

The recent news that the contract of New Brunswick Seminary's president was not renewed after officiating at his daughter's marriage to another woman sparked my memory. In Battle for the Minds, a documentary covering the fundamentalist takeover of Southern Baptist Seminary, Dr. Molly Marshall (an OBU graduate, just thought I'd mention it!) argues that the resistance exhibited by many conservatives to women in the pulpit are rooted in experience--to be more exact a lack of experience. She tells an illustrative story of the children's play in the nursery of a church which she served as a solo pastor. The nursery worker had to intercede in defense of the young boys in the nursery when the children played church. The girls insisted that the boys could not be pastors. The wise nursery worker had to explain, "Now, girls, little boys can be pastors too!" Marshall goes on to explain that these young children were building theological positions upon what they had seen and experienced and proposes that a lack of exposure to women in ministerial positions only buttresses conservative positions on the issue.

I have become increasingly convinced that personal exposure is an excellent check for our theological positions. In our typically isolated churches, the tendency to ignore the presence of homosexuals in the community or even in the pews only complicates the emotional issues around the reaction of the church to the gay and lesbian community. It is one thing to condemn and vilify a faceless stranger, a whole other matter when one is dealing with a neighbor, a friend, a sibling, a child, or a parent.

If there is anything upon which both sides of this controversial issue can agree, it is that historically the church has been cruel and unloving in its treatment of homosexuals; simply, we have not followed the example of Christ. The first step towards healing and understanding amongst us all is a basic appreciation for one another as creatures of God. It is a small step but an important step nonetheless.